March 10, 2016
Imagine Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey and Duke counterpart Mike Krzyzewski as the little and big brothers in the family.
Big brother for years holds sway–he’s got the upper hand, he’s the mentor, the teacher, the role model. And he can flex his muscle when needed. Krzyzewski’s Duke staff spawned a long list of assistants (including Brey) who became head coaches–but none had any luck beating big brother.
Then little brother Brey suddenly grew up. He learned his lessons well enough to flex his own set of muscles.
First, Brey’s Irish defeated big brother’s Duke team 79-77 in 2014 in Notre Dame’s first Atlantic Coast Conference home game. Then, last year, the Irish did it again in South Bend, beating the Blue Devils by three (77-74). Then Notre Dame won by 10 (74-64) over Krzyzewski’s crew in an ACC Championship semifinal. This season, Notre Dame already owned a 95-91 shootout win over the Blue Devils in Durham (the first Irish win at Cameron Indoor Stadium).
Thursday afternoon at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., little brother proved his golden touch continues. Notre Dame defeated 19th-rated Duke 84-79 in overtime.
In the marquee matchup of the ACC Championship quarterfinals (both teams ended with 11-7 league marks, with Notre Dame meriting the four seed compared to the five for Duke by virtue of that Irish victory in Durham), Duke made hay for a while at the three-point stripe, taking nearly half its shots (36 of 73–and making 11) from way out there.
But, after being down 16 (64-48 with 11:08 left), Brey and his unit held Duke without a point until the 3:37 mark and without a field goal until the 2:16 juncture. Meanwhile Notre Dame went on a 14-0 run to take it to overtime at 70 apiece. From there Steve Vasturia hit a couple of free throws three seconds in, V.J. Beachem hit another three to make it 75-70 (Beachem also hit absolutely critical threes at 2:35 and 1:07 in regulation) and Duke never got closer than three points.
Little brother and his program officially have shed their baby fat, outgrown their pimples and proved they belong with the bluebloods on Tobacco Road (the Irish also own three straight victories over North Carolina over the last two seasons–and that’s who the Irish play Friday night in the ACC semifinals in a rematch of last year’s ACC title game). Two of Notre Dame’s last three wins over Associated Press top-10 teams have been against Krzyzewski.
All of a sudden those pregame and postgame handshakes and hugs between big and little brother have become a bit more complicated. All of a sudden all these recent meetings suggest there’s not much difference between these two programs–big brother’s team and little brother’s counterpart both are now considered ACC strong boys.
“It’s not personal because I love Mike,” Krzyzewski said of Brey after Duke’s win over North Carolina State Wednesday.
Brothers always say that. But, still.
Brey also figured he had more than a little karma going here this week with the ACC event moving from Greensboro to the District of Columbia:
- The Irish head coach is from nearby Rockville, Maryland, and he formerly played and coached at DeMatha High School under legendary Morgan Wootten.
- It’s probably no coincidence that Notre Dame’s designated ACC Legend this year is Adrian Dantley, another DeMatha product.
- Former Irish players from the D.C. area (Austin Carr, Dantley, Jerian Grant, Bob Whitmore, etc.) have scored nearly 15,000 points in Notre Dame games.
- And the Verizon Center has been the scene of seven Irish wins since 2000-01 (four over Georgetown from the BIG EAST days, two over Maryland, one against Texas).
It certainly couldn’t hurt that the pregame pump-up video on the center-hung scoreboard was littered with images of Notre Dame’s 2015 ACC Championship trophy from a year ago.
And how could the guys in gold and green lose, anyway, when it’s Carr’s birthday?
Duke won the first half 45-37, with a late 13-2 flurry over a 4:57 stretch fueled by uncharacteristic sloppiness by the Irish (six turnovers in the final 5:10 of the half). Notre Dame came in fourth nationally in fewest turnovers per game at 9.2–but the Irish had 10 in the first half. (Duke rated 10th in that same category at 10.0). The Irish missed five of their last seven shots in the period–Duke hit four of its final six.
The opening 20 minutes produced six ties and seven lead changes. While Brey’s Irish normally merit their rep as long-distance bombers, this time it was Duke hitting six of 17 from the arc (four of eight by Grayson Allen), compared to two for nine for Notre Dame (both by freshman Matt Ryan who saddled himself with four first-half fouls). Krzyzewski’s group came in leading the ACC in made three-pointers (while the Irish rated last in the league in three-point defense).
Notre Dame started by knocking down 12 of its first 19 from the field–while the Blue Devils misfired on nine of their initial 14. Both teams sizzled in the middle of the period, the Irish connecting on seven of eight shots over one span compared to five of seven by Duke. Vasturia had five assists in the first 11 minutes.
The second half didn’t begin much better for Brey and his Irish. They logged four more turnovers in a 3:29 sequence and Duke zeroed in on six of its first eight shots to build a 58-42 lead. Maybe the tone was set when Matt Jones hit a three for Duke’s first points after the break–while, after an Irish steal, a wide-open Beachem couldn’t get his hands on a Zach Auguste outlet pass. The Blue Devils led by 16 at the 10:58 media timeout.
A female Notre Dame student claimed the Bojangles fan of the game award over her Duke counterpart in a cheer-a-thon at a late second-half timeout, but with Notre Dame down 13 it appeared that’s all the Irish would win Thursday. If the Blue Devils had heavy legs after a scorefest 24 hours earlier against North Carolina State, they had not shown it to that point.
But, boy, did things ever change in those final minutes–and give the Irish defense a batch of credit. Notre Dame played a big role in Duke missing its last four shots in regulation, hitting only one of its last 13 and two of its last 18.
By game’s end (including overtime), Duke had missed 12 of its final 14 and 20 of its last 23 attempts from the floor. Notre Dame, on the other hand, downed nine of its last 15–four of those of the three-point variety.
Auguste finished with 19 points and 22 rebounds. (“I don’t think anyone is playing better than Zach Auguste in the country right now,” said Brey). Go back to 2008 for a 22-rebound game, Luke Harangody against Washington State with 22–and go back 26 years to LaPhonso Ellis for more than that (24 against Creighton in 1990). It’s the second-best total in an ACC Championship game.
Duke shot 11 of 40 in the second half and overtime.
The crazy thing is that players like Vasturia, a junior, don’t know how the Irish struggled in losing 11 in a row over one stretch to the Blue Devils. Vasturia and his mates have won five of six.
Offered Vasturia, “We believed the whole entire 40 minutes (actually 45). V.J. hit some big shots, and Zach got every single rebound.
“Everybody in this room has been part of a lot of big games, and so we go into every one of them thinking we can win. People step up and make big plays and that happened tonight. No question Mike Krzyzewski is one of the greatest coaches in the game, but we’re worried about what’s on the floor. We’re worried about us. We’re tough to guard and we’re tough to beat.”
Brey loved the way his team responded when pushed into a corner.
“Way to dig in–our defense was key. Way to push them out. I’m going to watch that defense all night. I’m going to watch a double feature,” Brey told his team after the game. “At this time of year we made fearless plays.”
The Irish head coach said to the media, “That’s the best we’ve played our man-to-man defense all season against a really potent offensive attack.”
At the end it was left for the Irish head coach to put the rivalry in perspective:
“Mike (Krzyzewski) has been great. He’s always so supportive and wishing me good luck and so complimentary of our team.
“We were kidding before the game about what Irish bar we’d go to after the game. We know both our teams are going to the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve won a number of games against that program and that gives us great credibility. Same thing with the guys tomorrow night. What we’ve done early against Duke and North Carolina has given us great ACC credibility. We’re really proud of that.
“I actually said to my brother today, if we don’t beat Duke today and make it five out of six, people are going to be all upset and say, `What happened?’ That’s the standard we’ve set.”
Big brother, little brother–maybe it’s all a mirage.
The Irish, still, as underdogs? “It’s a nice role, we’ll take that. Keeps us hungry, keeps us loose,” said Brey.
The Irish have proven they can play.
“Our guys remembered how it felt to win a championship and cut down a net last year. I’m sure they’re talking about cutting a net down in D.C., which would be great,” added Brey.
“Because I kind of like this town.”
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.